Listening to Britten – Purcell: Hark the ech’ing air

First Lute Song – Gloriana by Jane Mackay, used with thanks to the artist

Hark the Ech’ing Air (from The Fairy Queen), Z629/48b – Purcell realization for high voice and piano (June – 19 November 1939, Britten aged 26)

Dedication not known
Text Anon
Language English
Duration 2’30”

Audio clips (with thanks to Decca and Hyperion)

The original [Jennifer Vyvyan (soprano), English Chamber Orchestra / Benjamin Britten]

The realization [Felicity Lott (soprano), Graham Johnson (piano)]

Background and Critical Reception

The second of Britten’s Purcell realizations, described by Paul Kildea as ‘an ecstatic colloquy between voice and piano, the small amount of text spread over a large number of bars, each filled with ornamentation, onomatopoeia, repetition of words and phrases and the sort of free-wheeling coloratura Pears was yet to master. The musical phrases are of wildly varying lengths, while the joyful piano realization embroiders the text with great skill and cheek’.

Couldn’t put it better myself! An introduction to Britten’s realizations of Purcell can be found on the blog here


It is interesting hearing Purcell’s original – in Britten’s recording – and the realization, which stays largely faithful to Purcell’s harmony.

What really stands out though is what Kildea highlights, the notes per word – or, in musical terms, melisma – that we expect to have an impact on Britten’s later works. After the relative directness of what we’ve heard in Britten’s output so far, this is going to take a while to get used to.

Recordings used

Felicity Lott (soprano), Graham Johnson (piano) (Hyperion)

Lott sings with a bright tone and a great sense of freedom, while Johnson’s piano part is witty and to the point.


There is only one disc of the complete Purcell realizations, unfortunately not available on Spotify.

Also written in 1939: Vaughan Williams – Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus

Next up: Canadian Carnival, Op.19

This entry was posted in Listening to Britten, Purcell realizations, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Listening to Britten – Purcell: Hark the ech’ing air

  1. Pingback: Britten and earworms | Good Morning Britten

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